Today and tomorrow I will be attending and speaking at the e-Learning Event in Den Bosch in the Netherlands. This should be one of the biggest learning technology events in the Netherlands. For some reason I have never been before, so I am curious to see how much I enjoy the event.
Theo Rinsema, General Manager Microsoft Netherlands
Rinsema talked about new ways of working (“het nieuwe werken”), a concept that in the Netherlands has been appropriated by Microsoft. His first point was that current times have accelerated the amount of change and that this means that we will have to learn contineously. Learning and change are very much related. The causes for this speed of change can be found in a couple of trends that drive change in the virtual world: cloud computing, data explosion, social computing, apps, natural interfaces, connections, computing ecosystems and mobile workplaces. Cloud computing, for example, lowers the barrier of entry in a market. This create more competition and this accelerates development.
Microsoft in the Netherlands went through a change process (1100 people work for Microsoft in the Netherlands). The focused on productivity (can we really become more productive every year or are we just working more hours?), talent (how can we attract more women to our mostly male organization?) and the boundaries between work life and private life (how do we solve the puzzle where our offices are only utilised 24% of the time, people like the flexibility, but don’t like their private/work mix). They were on a multi-year journey where they one of the key elements was creating trust between employees and about creating real conversations between staff (I wonder whether he has read the Cluetrain Manifesto).
They created a few things:
“Ruimte voor groei-dagen”: an event where the whole organizations get together and works on personal growth.
“Raad van Anders”: they have about 50.000 visitors a year coming to check out their offices to see how they are working. Rinsema thought that Microsoft was starting to believe too much in themselves. They instituted a “board of others”, inviting non-Microsoft people (young people, government workers, women, disabled people) to come into their offices, have open doors everywhere and then get feedback on what Microsoft does (with the press present). This enables Microsoft to “see with different eyes” (Proust would have said: “see with new eyes”).
“Silverlight Society a.k.a. project Crowley”: an alternate reality game in which Microsoft staff thought they were in a pilot from Microsoft research about collaborating in a virtual world. Members of this elite group of beta-tester had to solve more and more complex problems day by day forcing them to collaborate with each other and use social networks. 290 people participated.
I appreciated Rinsema’s talk for sounding authentic and for not mentioning SharePoint as an enabler for these new ways of working. This means he is smarter than 95% of the collaboration consultants in this space.
Erwin Blom on the Social Media Revolution
Erwin Blom from Fast Moving Targetsis a journalist who got addicted to the Internet in 1994 when he was working for Dutch media outfit VPRO. He produced a music program for the radio and found out that he suddenly wasn’t the expert anymore, his community of listeners knew more than him. He later became heaf of new media for the VPRO and now works for himself looking at how the net changes many aspects of society.
He showed Draw Something as an example of where people learn very naturally: his children play the game to learn English and learn how to visualize. It is incredible how quickly that game grew and for how much the creators were bought by Zynga. Another example of using game-based things is Codecademy. Another example is Foodzy. It teaches you about your own behaviours around food and teaches you a lot about food. Blom considers YouTube the largest collection of lessons in the world. In general these things work for one person, but they work even better if there are multiple people doing the same thing.
With social media everybody now is a publisher. We have endless means to tell each other stories. We underutilize the potential of storytelling (an important skill). We are now all connected and can ask each other questions and can have good conversations with people that were out of our reach (in many dimensions) before. Knowledge is now available everywhere, we need to learn how to find and select the information. Network building skills and “personal branding” skills are important for future proofing. You have to be present on this platforms and create narratives about yourselves.
He showed a nice example of what his daughter learns from her blog. She is learning about how to tell a story, about how to write headlines, about dealing with commentary about and she learns discipline (blogging twice a week). His son writes at Game Testers United and learns similar lessons. Blom asks himself why this isn’t a part of their school education. Can’t we make schools media production companies?
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. This month we write about how the constant flux of new apps and platforms influences your workflow. We do this by (re-)viewing our workflow from different perspectives. After a general introduction we write a paragraph of 200 words each from the perspective of 1. apps, 2. platform and 3. workflow itself. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
To me a workflow is about two things mainly: the ability to capture things and the ability to time-shift. Both of these need to be done effectively and efficiently. So let’s take a look at three separate processes and see how they currently work for me: task/todo management, sharing with others and reading news and interesting articles (not books). So how do I work nowadays for each of these three things?
I use Toodledo for my task/todo management. Whenever I “take an action” or think of something that I need to do at some point in the future I fire up Toodledo and jot it down. Each item is put in a folder (private, work, etc.), gets a due date (sometimes with a timed reminder to email if I really cannot forget to do it) and is given a priority (which I usually ignore). At the beginning and end of every day I run through all the tasks and decide in my head what will get done.
For me it important to share what I encounter on the web and my thoughts about that with the rest of the world. I do this in a couple of different ways: explicitly through Twitter, through Twitter by using a Bit.ly sidebar in my Browser, in Yammer if it is purely for work, on this WordPress.com blog, through public bookmarks on Diigo, by sending a direct email or by clicking the share button in Google Reader.
I have subscribed to 300+ RSS feeds and often when I am scanning them and find something interesting and I don’t have the opportunity to read it at that time. I use Instapaper to capture these articles and make them available for easy reading later on. Instapaper doesn’t work with PDF based articles so I send those to a special email address so that I can pick them up with my iPad and save them to GoodReader when it is convenient.
“Platform” can have multiple meanings. The operating system was often called a platform. When you heavily invested into one platform it would become difficult to do any of your workflows with a different platform (at my employer this has been the case for many years with Microsoft and Exchange: hard to use anything else). Rich web applications have now turned the Internet itself into a workflow platform. This makes the choice for an operating system nearly, if not totally, irrelevant. I regularly use Ubuntu (10.04, too lazy to upgrade so far), Windows Vista (at work) and iOS (both on the iPhone and the iPad). All of the products and services mentioned either have specialised applications for the platform or are usable through any modern web browser. The model I prefer right now is one where there is transparent two-way synching between a central server/service and the different local apps, allowing me access to my latest information even if I am not online (Dropbox for example uses this model and is wonderful).
What I have noticed though, is that I have strong preferences for using a particular platform (actually a particular device) for doing certain tasks. The iPad is my preference for any reading of news or of articles: the “paginate” option on Instapaper is beautiful. Sharing is best done with something that has a decent keyboard and Toodledo is probably used the most with my iPhone because that is usually closest at hand.
Sharing is a good example of something where the app drives my behaviour very much: the app where I initially encounter the thing I want to share needs to support the sharing means of choice. This isn’t optimal at all: if I read something interesting in MobileRSS on the iPad that I want to share on Yammer, then I usually email the link from MobileRSS to my work email address, once at work I copy it from my mail client into the Browser version of Yammer and add my comments. This is mainly because Yammer (necessarily) has to be a closed off to the rest of the world with its APIs.
Services that create the least hickups in my workflow are those that have a large separation between the content/data of the service and the interface. Google Reader and Toodledo both provide very complete APIs that allow anybody to create an app that accesses the data and displays it in a smart way. The disadvantage of these services is that I am usually dependent on a single provider for the data. In the long term this is probably not sustainable. Things like Unhosted are already pointing to the future: an even stricter separation between data and app. Maybe in that future, the workflow can start driving the app instead of the other way around.
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about DrupalJam 6 by commenting on 7 tweets that have a #drupaljam hashtag. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
DrupalJam 6 was held in Amsterdam on March 19th 2010. I have never really used Drupal, but as a project it has many similarities to Moodle and that makes it interesting to me. Just like Moodle it was started by a single very sociable person with a vision, just like Moodle it is a PHP application and just like Moodle it is the de facto mindshare (if not market) leader in its field. All the similarities make looking at the differences even more interesting. Moodle has commercialised through a decentralised network of Moodle partners, whereas Drupal has chosen a venture capital backed route with Acquia.Martin Dougiamas has decided to commercialise the Moodle trademark through a decentralised network of Moodle partners, whereas Dries Buytaert has chosen a venture capital backed route by creating a company specialising in Drupal services: Acquia, allowing other companies to (often freely) license the Drupal trademark too. (Text deleted and added after a comment by Bert Boerland, thanks!) The DrupalJam was more product focused (in the sense of software focused) than your standard Moodlemoot. This makes sense: DrupalJam visitors only share the fact that they use Drupal (the contents of their site can be about anything) whereas Moodlemoot visitors usually also share a passion for education.
Let’s cut to the chase: During the DrupalJam I kept monitoring the #drupaljam hashtag using Tweetie 2. I then favourited every tweet that I thought was interesting and could be used for this post. Out of the twenty or so favourites I selected these 7 to share with you.
1. tkeppens: Het zou fantastisch zijn de #drupaljam sessies na de conf als screencast te kunnen zien. Drukke agenda laat niet toe er te zijn. : – ( #drupal
A quick translation: “It would be fantastic if #drupaljam sessions would be viewable as a screencast after the conf. Busy agenda doesn’t permit me to attend”. Technology is now at a stage where even for a non-commercial event, this should be feasible. Presentation capturing is something that I have been exploring in my role as Innovation Manager for Learning Technologies recently and it is a market with fast maturing products. I have looked at Presentations 2Go and am also very interested in Echo 360‘s offering (see here for a more complete list of options I explored). I believe it is good practice to separate the video of the speaker from the video of the speaker’s laptop. Does anybody know what is the easiest way of organising this on the cheap for conferences like the DrupalJam or a Moodlemoot?
4. ijansch: Would be nice if #drupaljam was on http://joind.in for talk ratings
It is always nice to learn about a new web service through a tweet. I checked out Joind.in and have decided to register for an account and try and use it at the next conference I am organising (Moodlemoot on May 26th). Joind.in allows you to add tracks and talks to your event and then provide an easy link to a summary, slides on Slideshare and a way to score and comment on the talk. They have an iPhone app and an open API (so other apps should be on their way). The only thing that might be a problem is that it doesn’t seem to allow for localisation: the whole site is in English, making Dutch summaries stand out a bit.
I have written before about the direct influence of our environment on our behaviour. I think learning professionals can learn a lot from people like Hans Monderman. This traffic engineer looked with a fresh eye at how people and technology relate to each other. This led to some ground-breaking traffic concepts (quote from Wikipedia):
His most famous design approach is Shared Space, also known as designing for negotiation or Shared Streets. Monderman found that the traffic efficiency and safety of urban streets improved when the street and surrounding public space was redesigned to encourage each person to negotiate their movement directly with others. Shared Space designs typically call for removing regulatory traffic control features (such as kerbs, lane markings, signs and lights) and replacing intersections with roundabouts.
Our surroundings change who we are. I was therefore delighted to learn that Alain de Botton has written a book about exactly this topic, applying it to the architectural domain: The Architecture of Happiness. In it he writes about one of my favourite architectural topics: Le Corbusier and his plans for the Radiant City:
By building upwards, two problems would be resolved at a stroke: overcrowding and urban sprawl. With room enough for everyone in towers, there would be no need for cities to spread outwards and devour the countryside in the process. ‘We must eliminate the suburbs,’ recommend Le Corbusier, whose objection was as much based on his hatred of what he took to be the narrow mental outlook of suburbanites as on the aesthetics of their picket-fenced villas. In the new kind of city, the pleasures of the town would be available to all. Despite a population density of 1,000 per hectare, everyone would be comfortably housed. Even the concierge would have his own study, added Le Corbusier.
There would be ample green space as well, as up to 50 per cent of urban land would be devoted to parks – for, as the architect put it, ‘the sports ground must be at the door of the house.’ What was more, the new city would not merely have parks; it would itself be a vast park, with large towers dotted among the trees. On the roofs of the apartment blocks, there would be games of tennis, and sunbathing on the shores of the artificial beaches.
Simultaneously, Le Corbusier planned to abolish the city street: ‘Our streets no longer work. Streets are an obsolete notion. There ought not to be such things as streets; we have to create something that will replace them.’ He witheringly pointed out that the design of Paris’s street plan dated from the middle of the sixteenth century, when ‘the only wheeled traffic consisted of two vehicles, the Queen’s coach and that of the Princess Diane.’ He resented the fact that the legitimate demands of both cars and people were constantly and needlessly compromised, and he therefore recommended that the two henceforth be separated. In the new city, people would have footpaths all to themselves, winding through woods and forests (‘No pedestrian will ever meet an automobile, ever!’), while cars would enjoy massive and dedicated motorways, with smooth, curving interchanges, thus guaranteeing that no driver would ever have to slow down for the sake of a pedestrian. [..]
The division of cars and people was but one element in Le Corbusier’s plan for a thoroughgoing reorganisation of the life in the new city. All functions would now be untangled. There would no longer be factories, for example, in the middle of residential areas, thus no more forging of iron while children were trying to sleep nearby.
This rational (at first sight) design for cities has an intuitive appeal. It is therefore not surprising that many municipalities have created whole neighbourhoods according to Le Corbusier’s principles. I have worked in one of these neighbourhoods for many years: the Bijlmer. The Bijlmer can be considered an urban design failure. Its giant apartment flats have mostly been demolished or rebuilt within the first 30 years of their existence.
Urban planners could (should?) have known better. Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, delivering a damning critique of Le Corbusier’s idea of separating the different functions of a city. De Botton writes it down very elegantly too (apologies for another long quote, I think they are worthwhile though!):
Ironically, what Le Corbusier’s dreams helped to generate were the dystopian housing estates that now ring historic Paris, the waste lands from which tourist avert their eyes in confused horror and disbelief on their way into the city. To take an overland train to the most violent and degraded of these places is to realise all that Le Corbusier forgot about architecture and, in a wider sense, about human nature.
For example, he forgot how tricky it is when just a few of one’s 2,699 neighbours decide to throw a party or buy a handgun. He forgot how drab reinforced concrete can seem under a grey sky. He forgot how awkward it is when someone lights a fire in the lift and home is on the fourty-fourth floor. He forgot, too, that while there is much to have about slums, one things we don’t mind about them is their street plan. We appreciate buildings which form continuous lines around us and make us feel as safe in the open air as we do in a room. There is something enervating about a landscape neither predominantly free of buildings nor tightly compacted, but littered with towers distributed without respect for edges or lines, a landscape which denies us the true pleasures of both nature and urbanisation. And because such an environment is uncomfortable, there is always a greater risk that people will respond abusively to it, that they will come to the ragged patches of earth between their towers and urinate on tyres, burn cars, inject drugs – and express all the darkest sides of their nature against which the scenery can mount no protest.
In his haste to distinguish cars from pedestrians, Le Corbusier also lost sight of the curious codependence of these two apparently antithetical forces. He forgot that without pedestrians to slow them down, cars are apt to go too fast and kill their drivers, and that without the eyes of cars on them, pedestrians can feel vulnerable and isolated. We admire New York precisely because the traffic and crowds have been coerced into a difficult but fruitful alliance.
A city laid out on apparently rational grounds, where different specialised facilities (the houses, the shopping centre, the library) are separated from one another across a vast terrain connected by motorways, deprives its inhabitants of the pleasure of incidental discoveries and presupposes that we march from place to place with a sense of unflagging purpose. But whereas we may leave the house with the ostensible object of consulting a book in a library, we may nevertheless be delighted on the way by the sight of the fishmonger laying out his startled, bug-eyed catch on sheets of ice, by workmen, hoisting patterned sofas into apartment blocks, by leaves opening their tender green palms to the spring sunshine, or by a girl with chestnut hair and glasses reading a book at the bus stop.
The addition of shops and offices adds a degree of excitement to otherwise inert, dormitory areas. Contact, even of the most casual kind, with commercial enterprises gives us a transfusion of an energy we are not always capable of producing ourselves. Waking up isolated and confused at three in the morning, we can look out of the window and draw solace from the blinking neon signs in a storefront across the road, advertising bottled beer or twenty-four-hour pizza and, in their peculiar way, evoking a comforting human presence through the paranoid early hours.
All of this, Le Corbusier forgot – as architects often will.
This is a very long pre-amble to the topic at hand: how the workspace can affect performance.
Most of my time I work in an office in Rijswijk that has been designed by David Leon. The longer I work there, the more impressed I have become by the attention to detail of its indoor design. The designers obviously have a very deep understanding of how people work nowadays and have created a work environment that enables people to get the best out of their day. How is this done?
The office space is open (no cubicles), but permanent storage areas and desks have been placed in such a way that privacy is ensured.
There are a multitude of different flexible rooms available: cockpits for one person (ideal for when you need to concentrate on getting something done), small rooms with two low chairs (great for having an informal chat), rooms with a table and a cornered bench (excellent for small brainstorms) and bigger rooms with oval meeting tables (sometimes with video calling facility). We even have rooms with wacky furniture to get the creativity going.
Connectivity in each room and at each desk. There are docking stations everywhere and each room has a speaker phone.
There is a lot of transparency: doors are made of glass and most meeting rooms are like semi-fishbowls with one or more walls completely done in glass.
The finishing is meticulous and natural. The orange colour is relaxing, cupboards have a wood finishing and in the heavy traffic areas (where carpeting can’t work) there are beautiful black natural stone tiles.
The overall layout allows small work communities (10-20 people) to form naturally. These work communities then share elevators, toilets, kitchen areas, allowing for broader networking too.
There are many similarities with the post I wrote about planning your career. Many of the things that keep you in the “Hooray!” zone on a career (macro level) are also relevant on the micro level when it comes to doing day-to-day work. Transparency, flexibility, the opportunities for networking and the use of technology are what make my office great.
My company seems to understand this too. There is a reason why they hired David Leon, who write on their website:
Innovation depends on bright people. These people cost more and are far more valuable than the buildings they occupy… but it is a proven fact that the environment in which they work has a major impact on their effectiveness.
For that reason we design workplaces and buildings round the needs of people and the business aims of their organisations.
It is therefore stupefying that I am forced to use a locked down version of Microsoft Windows 2000 with Internet Explorer 6 as a primary workspace every single day of my working life (currently all employees are migrating to a locked down version MS Vista, this should be finished by the end of the first quarter). I think this is a big mistake and know that many people are not as productive as they could have been because of this.
I estimate that I am about 50% more productive on a laptop that is exactly configured to my specifications. The ability to use the applications that I want on the operating system that I prefer (that would be Ubuntu) would make a huge difference. It is the small details that make all the difference. I can’t use my normal keyboard shortcuts, I don’t have access to the command line to do things in batch, I don’t have a decent browser, I cannot edit images; I could go on much longer.
Many of the sites I need to look at don’t even work on IE6 anymore. The other day I browsed to drop.io from work and got the following message:
So, here is my recommendation to all companies:
At all times allow your employees the freedom to use the technology they want
Yes, this means that you cannot standardise on hardware and software.
Yes, this means you have to allow access to your network from the device that your employee chooses.
Yes, this means you will have to support open standards so that people with a Mac or running Linux can access your applications.
Yes, you will need more bandwidth because you will have to allow YouTube and Facebook.
Yes, you will have extra costs because of all this.
But these extra costs will easily be offset by the extra productivity that your employees can deliver for you. In a couple of years it might actually become difficult to find employees that want to work for your company if you don’t heed to this recommendation.
Is your productivity affected by your workspace? Does your company allow you to choose your hardware? Can you install the software that you want and/or need? I look forward to any comments.
I have already written two posts about the Learning 2008 conference. This last post about day one will just be some random things that I noticed and want to highlight:
The session on Mobile learning with industry leaders from Chrysler, Accenture, Microsoft and Merril Lynch was surprising to me. Mobile learning was mostly used by these companies to make their learning more efficient and thus drive down costs without losing effectiveness. Basically a matter of ROI. Existing learning materials and courses are converted into on- or offline materials for the Blackberry or Windows mobile. Their employees can then do some of the required business curriculum while they are on a plane, on the way to their car or while playing with their child (yep, that last example was actually used). They were after the holy grail of learning designers: design once and deploy everywhere. The problem with this is that they do not take the affordances of the mobile device into account. The fact that this is a cell phone which could be used for audio, that it is a communication tool that has rich possibilities (e.g. location awareness through GPS) was not taken into account. To me that is a shame.
Richard Culatta works for the CIA and gave a presentation titled: “Two Brains are better than one: Leveraging social networks for learning”. He talked about a whole bunch of free tools which can be used for social learning. The CIA uses these tools in different ways (e.g. the Intellipedia, a Mediawiki implementation). What I liked about Richard’s presentation was his enthusiasm and his energy: he covered a lot of ground in a short time and was very interactive with the audience. Maybe because he is well aware of the concept of the attention economy. I wish all presenters would take the cost of my attention into account!
Wayne Hodgins is working with Erik Duval on a book about the Snowflake effect. His job title is “Strategic Futurist” and works from his sailing boat in which he sails around the world. He talked about how everybody is a snowflake, a metaphor for the uniqueness of everybody. Different music services (e.g. Pandora and Last.fm) already take this uniqueness into account. Why don’t we apply these principles to learning activities? Finally he talked about mashups as a generic concept. Why don’t we use the unique qualities of humans and mash them up when we create a project team?
Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, talked about the Wikipedia in general, which is currently the number four website in the world. Masie asked her about how neutrality is ensured. Her idea is that transparency is the answer to everything. By being clear that someone thinks A, but somebody else thinks B, you actually add to knowledge and make things clear. The foundation will be working on improving the interface for editing articles which can be quite difficult for complex pages. They might also try to look at what they can do with video and audio, although we have to realise that they are not as easily collaborated with as with text. Masie wondered about students using information from the Wikipedia for their assignments. Is that something we should encourage while the information might not be correct? Sue answered by talking about the most accepting country for Wikipedia: Germany. Professors in Germany are starting to see it as their duty to make sure that Wikipedia is correct and updated.